For breadth, innovation, facility, and superhuman unity, no guitar duo in the world comes close to Sérgio and Odair Assad. For more than 40 years, the Brazilian brothers have been hailed for their renderings of European keyboard greats like Bach and Scarlatti and modern masters like Debussy and Gershwin. But it’s the almost-shamanistic authority they bring to Latin music that cuts closest to the bone.
Fortunately for Santa Barbara, the Assad Brothers have repeatedly graced area stages, most recently on Valentine’s Day, 2012. “But this time it will be very different,” Sérgio told us via phone from New York, “because we are surrounded by women.” For their upcoming Campbell Hall performance, titled A Brazilian Songbook, the duo will be joined by their sister, guitarist/vocalist Badi, as well as Sérgio’s daughter, pianist/vocalist Clarice, and Odair’s daughter, singer Carolina. The Assad family comes to UCSB on Wednesday, April 9, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. Below, Sérgio discusses the tour’s past and present.
A Brazilian Songbook started with a tour that included your mother and father. Yes. Ten years ago we wanted to give our parents a taste for what our lives are. Because they were amateur musicians all their lives, they never went into professional life, and they never traveled out of Brazil. Then we brought them with us for the tour, and they surprised us, actually, because their spot on the show was the best one. The people really reacted so well to them. But they were already old; my dad was turning 80 when they came and passed away about three years ago. He lived a happy and beautiful life. My mom doesn’t want to travel any more. Ten years after, we said, “Well, let’s do it one more time.”
Your sister, Badi, and daughter, Clarice, are very unusual vocalists. Are there Brazilian roots to their scat singing and vocal percussion? I would say that there’s everything. Badi is 10 years younger than my brother. We already had a career when she picked up the guitar for the first time. But she learned quite fast; she wanted to follow our paths. But it’s very difficult for someone in the same family to carry the same name and to do something similar. We talked a lot about this; she had the skills for singing, so I said, “Maybe you should do something different.” But she went beyond my suggestion. She really took it very seriously and started working on percussion, and she became this really unique thing that we didn’t expect at all. Of course, that influenced my daughter, Clarice, as well, [who] wanted to play guitar. I said, “Well, there are already too many guitarists in this family. So perhaps you should [choose something else].” She demonstrated high skills for composing very soon in her life, so I said, “Maybe it’s better if you go to the piano. It is going to be a more helpful instrument for your composing.” And that’s what she did.
Who takes the lead when writing and arranging for the family ensemble? When we play, we have to explore the individual sides of everyone, so there will be some Assad Duo, there will be some of Badi solo, and there will be some of Clarice solo. We have about three or four things we do as a group. And the arrangements are mine, some of it. But recently Clarice took off. She’s so accomplished with arranging and writing, I think that’s her job now.